What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014
Look, I wasn’t sure the world needed a Wilco Greatest Hits album – or that one could even/ever work. But this shows the world does need it – and it does work. Still, a bit weird though, right? Naysayers aren’t going to be convinced – largely because the best way to remain ignorant to Wilco’s more than obvious charms and skill is to simply not listen. Also, they don’t really have hits – so it’s not like one or two songs here could trigger an experience, either fresh or nostalgic. And fans are already fans, and usually in it for the albums. Wilco is an albums band.
But, there’s something to be said in the idea of taking stock, for both fans and the band. And Wilco – after 20 years of releasing vital, interesting, passionate, accomplished, often dazzling music – is at a crossroads. Reinvention has been part of every album – they sit alone as much as they’re ever grouped together on the shelf, more like books than albums, you can enjoy one – have a favourite – without needing to huddle all of them together. At the same time, you always want to check in on a favourite author, see what they’re up to.
What’s Your 20? shows Wilco has always been up to something – and that something has changed across each album. And though you could argue that all of a particular album could have been included and that we could do with more from the Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie project or a bit less from certain areas and avenues this is a pretty immaculate tracklisting. It shows the growth and movement of the band. And does isolate a few key moments, as much as that could ever happen with(in) Wilco.
They’re that sort of band – too – where a Greatest Hits will be picked up by fans anyway for the car. Or for the pile. You listen to the records indoors, you take this one with you for the car stereo or on the iPod, you run the risk of being a bit like an Apple product-pusher, carrying a copy of this with you as the gateway-drug (“have you considered Jesus, Etc?”), door-to-door Wilco salesman, eager to slip Heavy Metal Drummer or Handshake Drugs on the stereo at just the right time to win over that person in your life that always seemed sceptical but you knew they hadn’t done the listening. Or maybe you want to remind yourself that there’s a rugged, rustic charm in Passenger Side, Casino Queen and Misunderstood and that, just as it could seem remarkable to think that the same band (well it’s not the same band, but the same writer anyway) could then put out She’s A Jar and Via Chicago and then Impossible Germany and Whole Love actually it’s not all that remarkable at all. Just the proof that this band – this great band of the last 20 years – has evolved, is always and ever evolving, as the best unit at assimilating then disseminating, sometimes decimating American musical styles.
What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 is, in that sense, a perfect primer. A great reminder. A bookmark. For that collection of books you’ve gathered, or will now start gathering. From your (current, continued, or soon to be) favourite author/s.